The Northwest Passage on the MS Roald Amundsen
First Impressions and General Observations
The voyage began well. The Air Greenland flight was uneventful and Hurtigruten personnel were ready at Kangerlussuaq to see us to ... Read More
The Northwest Passage on the MS Roald Amundsen
First Impressions and General Observations
The voyage began well. The Air Greenland flight was uneventful and Hurtigruten personnel were ready at Kangerlussuaq to see us to transportation to the boat. We felt some concern at the dock because it was dark and some of us do need to be careful where we are stepping, but we swiftly and safely boarded the Zodiacs with the help of the expedition crew. That the Amundsen was brilliantly lit with apparently every light in use was a bit spectacular. In retrospect, this would seem to be in contradiction to the energy conservation aspects of the ship, but perhaps a bit of hubris would be expected on a maiden voyage.
Once on board, we were greeted with the spectacular six story display facing the elevators. Obtaining our identification card/key was quick and finding our stateroom equally fast. Luggage appeared in due course as promised. Having been on the Fram on five prior occasions, I think we were well prepared to what should otherwise have occurred. [Those 5 voyages on the Fram have really set a level of expectation that we feel any Hurtigruten ship would meet and it would be impossible for us not to compare the Amundsen with the Fram.] Hurtigruten literature makes very clear the need for a health statement (“Boarding will be denied if ….”), but no one on the Amundsen was prepared to collect and review the health statements. Subsequent inquiry at the reception desk suggested that staff were essentially clueless about the matter. [This should not be constructed as a criticism of the medical staff of the ship as we witnessed their very fast and efficient handling of the medical emergency that affected a crew member.] The “Mandatory” AECO and Boat Safety Presentations were at best casual and no record of attendance was made as was the custom on the Fram. A crew member did don the safety suit but there was no commentary on the step-by-step procedure to properly secure the suit or even any particular effort made to draw attention to the demonstration; I would question what fraction of the ship’s passengers actually saw or paid attention to it. Those present were asked to move to the emergency assembly stations, but no additional introduction to the rescue boats or locations of safety equipment was made. We grant that use of the safety suit was often shown on one or more of the many video sets, but I don’t think we ever observed anyone paying attention to these.
Obtaining expedition jackets and muck boots the next day was without delay and similarly there was no problem in identifying our landing groups. It was rather disconcerting a couple of days latter when the expected rotation of the landing groups was seemingly randomly disrupted by the introduction of jacket patches – one can understand use of a obvious visual identification to prevent passengers from ignoring their allotted place in the landings, but the use of identification patches should have been done from the start.
The Captain’s Welcome and introduction to his officers and the expedition team was indeed a fitting introduction to the voyage, and the expedition crew provided a great goodbye at the Captain’s Farewell even though he and his officers were otherwise occupied at that time by the invasion of the US Coast Guard inspectors. The appearance of a Northwest Passenger Certificate was also a most welcome and unexpected surprise at the end of the voyage.
Otherwise, our overall initial impression was that the Amundsen is technological marvel, shiny new, but rather sterile compared to the Fram. There seemed to be too much dark tile in floors and walls, the corridor carpets too dark, and the artwork in the corridors and our cabin too uniformly abstract in black and white (the designs didn’t seem to have much relevance to the nature of Hurtigruten itineraries). The only real exceptions to this are the wonderful penguin and polar bear décors of the 6th and 10th deck restrooms. The Strusted prints in the forward stair well are equally abstract, bland in color, and without much appeal. The light colored carpet with red lines in the Exploration Lounge is actually quite attractive and it is unfortunate that it was not more extensively used in the Lounge and in the corridors.
We welcomed the presentation by the Chief Engineer on the new technology used in the ship’s construction. The visit to the bridge was most interesting to see how modern technology is incorporated into the navigation.
The Expedition Crew
The Expedition Crew were fantastic, wonderfully helpful in helping for safe boarding and leaving the Zodiacs, approachable and friendly on board, willing to answer questions, and presenters of a number of interesting and varied lectures. Their attention in making certain that landing sites were safe was very apparent and appreciated. We also were very pleased to see that alternatives were in hand when weather or ice conditions required changes in the schedule.
Our 4th deck cabin was far larger than we needed, but the double bed was comfortable and very welcome. The reclining chairs actually were quite comfortable. We appreciated the “green” option as our needs for making up the bed and fresh linens were quite minimal.
There were some technical problems with receiving announcements in the room via the video system. Although several Norwegian networks as well as Skynews claimed to be found on the TV, no reception on any of these given channels was ever received during the voyage. We also have no idea if the listed movies and other television programs indicated in the TV menu were available as we had no desire and made no effort to access them. Some daily news would have been welcome and so we were happy when the daily news summary finally appeared on one of the channels (without announcement) mid-voyage. Also in mid-voyage, the daily schedule of events on channel 1 was moved (again without announcement) to a higher channel, but we discovered if the TV was left on the higher channel, we no longer received the oral announcements which were restricted to channel 1. At some point, even this seemed not to be working and announcements were subsequently made via the ceiling loud speaker. In sum, however, any problems in the TV system we would rate of minor consequence and presume these will be rectified in due course.
We should at this point state our appreciation that the crew and staff did make the effort to minimize the repetition of announcements in multiple languages.
A bit more annoying was that only once were we able to access the internet via the ship’s Wi-Fi. As we had no pressing need to maintain e-mail or other contact with the outside world, this rates as a minor annoyance without explanation (possibly the problem was due to the weakness of the signal on the ship). Once home, our laptop instantly accessed our home Wi-Fi so the problem was not with our computer.
We would bring attention to one truly awkward design element in the room. That is the entry to the bathroom, with a 6 or 7-inch step upward from the room over 2-inch high sill. A moment of inattention in entering or exiting the bathroom (especially in mid-night when one might be half asleep) could all too easily result in a serious fall and injury. A far lower sill between cabin and bath floors at the same level should be more than adequate to prevent water from escaping the bathroom; actually given the offset of the shower away from the doorway, I am not certain than any sill is necessary. I would hope this concern would be considered in the construction design of any future Hurtigruten vessel.
The serving staff were wonderful, quickly attentive and ready to offer some meal alternatives for those with food difficulties.
We were rather surprised to see that dining tables in the Aune restaurant were primarily for two persons, certainly not conducive to interaction between passengers. In fact, when passengers did interact at mealtimes it usually meant someone or more would be standing in an aisle and impeding traffic flow. The presence of three passage ways between the tables does not seem ideal. Tables of 6 and 8 seats set perpendicular to a single, and wider, central passage would provide better traffic flow with possibly a few more available seats. The presence of coffee across the aisle from the soup and bread also was a source of congestion.
The presence of the shelves along the main corridor is unfortunate. They block the exterior view from half the diners, important as we were always on the lookout to marine life. The lightning on the underside of these shelves does not appear to be significant. But what we can describe only as truly odd, if not bizarre, is the display on these shelves of plastic fruit in canning jars. We cannot imagine how a decorator could possibly believe this to be appropriate to a ship devoted to Arctic exploration! The display of Norwegian tins and the dog sled and marine motifs in the restaurant are far more appropriate even though we confess mild amusement that the former were glued to the shelves so as not to become souvenirs for the passengers.
Breakfasts were more than adequate. We did find it curious that orange juice was usually not readily available, though it could be requested of the serving staff. Dry cereal was limited to four offerings, two of which were chocolate based, again curious given the median age of the passengers. High fiber bran cereal would have been more appropriate. But overall, breakfast offerings were more than adequate.
Selections in the buffet lunches and dinners appeared to be fewer than what we were accustomed to on the Fram. In particular, the variety of breads on the Amundsen seemed rather limited.
Deserts for the lunch and dinner buffets also showed limited imagination on the part of the chef – only three items on offer, one always a berry compote and another a mousse of some form, with the third usually some type of cake. Alternatives of ice cream or a sorbet were offered by the serving staff.
I fear we did not find the French(?) style of cuisine for the set menu dinners to be particularly appealing. As Americans, our preference is for a plainer style of cooking in which the artistic presentation of the food is not placed above the actual nature and quality of the item. As this is a culinary prejudice, it perhaps would be inappropriate to make much further comment on the food, though I will make an exception with regard to the several fish offerings of the set menu and the buffet dinners – we very much like baked fish, only seasoned lightly with lemon and pepper. The fish offered on the ship was always prepared within a sauce and seemed generally flavorless. A selection of arctic char was seared on the surface, but otherwise raw. We conclude the chef does not know how to prepare and serve fish.
Menus for lunch and dinner should have been prominently posted outside the dining room. Too often, it was too crowded at the serving stations to allow reading the written labels above the serving table and there was no time to question when something had an unfamiliar name. We also note two errors in the information posted outside the Aune restaurant. This tabulation notes meals vary from five-course dinners to buffets – but the set meals were only four-course. An “Afternoon Treat 16:00-17:00” is also listed for the Expedition Lounge. We remember fondly those pastries and fresh pancakes with jam and copious whipped cream served on the Fram every afternoon, but no “Treat” ever appeared on the Amundsen. I suppose we could also mention that hot chocolate was often available on the Fram in addition to coffee and tea. Alas, no hot chocolate on the Amundsen.
We did use the alternative restaurant on two occasion for hamburgers.
The Expedition Lounge
The Expedition Lounge on deck 10 unfortunately is divided into three parts by panels of open metal work whose decorative curves reflect the design in the carpet. We feel their presence is a mistake. It would be far better for the Lounge to be completely open, especially as it was used not only for the Captain’s Welcome and Farewell, for various presentations and open discussions, and the cultural experiences with Inuit visitors to the ship. These panels simply obscure a fair number of the passengers from having a direct view of the presenters. The multiple video screens do portray what the presenters are showing, but the speaker is still not readily visible to most of those present. An open Lounge is simply a more friendly environment and would be a more effective venue for the presentations.
The forward design of the Lounge is not optimal. The windows are slanted at far too shallow an angle and are set too far back from the front of the ship to give the best view toward the bow. The forward view should have been designed to give a view as close as possible to what the officers see from the bridge (which our visit showed has an impressive view to the front).
We fear that in the Lounge we could also hear the random “Thump, thump, thump” from heavy-footed runners using the trackway on deck 11. Deck 11 should be covered with the rubber-grid mats that are used on the Fram, thick enough to deaden the sound of foot impacts.
6th Deck Auditorium
The design of the auditorium is most unfortunate. First, the allocated space seemed too small for the number of passengers though the repetition of programs does work to limit the number of attendees. Perhaps a little more effort could be made to make passengers aware that programs would be repeated and perhaps even attendance by landing groups could be suggested. Second, there was a tendency of passengers to move chairs back to give themselves more leg room at the expense of the row behind them. Third, while the large format of the screen was good, the bottom was so close to the floor that viewers beyond the second or third row found it difficult to see the lower portion of the screen. The use of smaller auxiliary screens at the back of auditorium wasn’t very useful in this regard. The Amundsen would seem to have enough space that the auditorium could (should) have been designed in tiers, with each row a few inches above the one before it. Viewers thus would be more ably to see over the heads of those in front of them, and chairs could not be pushed back. This design is fairly standard, for example, in college classrooms. The auditorium thus would span the height of two decks, but we think this could easily have been achieved. Furthermore, the single entry doors at the front of the auditorium, adjacent to the speaker’s area, are bad as late comers tend to walk in front of the speaker. College lecture rooms have entry at the rear of the rooms, and doors should be double wide for easier entry and egress. For safety reasons, the forward doorways should be retained for emergency use. We did not feel that the design of the auditorium would meet proper safety standards for emergency exit. As a more important point, we must draw attention to the design and placement of the double screen at front. At right angles to each other and set into the front wall, at least a third of those present could not see either of these screens; the auxiliary screens are not a satisfactory alternative to viewing the main screen as they are small and missing is the presenter who often is directing the viewers’ attention to some detail in the picture. The general failure of the electronic pointer further affected the presentations – the presenter might point to some feature on one screen, but most of the audience was left to guess at what this might be. And lastly, the often failure of the microphones was annoying. If the speaker spoke away from the microphone, the sound reproduction would be lost. We find use of the microphones on headbands to be odd. Television news broadcasters typically appear to use a clip-on microphone, suggesting there exist sound systems that are much more reliable than the headbands.
Miscellaneous Other Observations
I think it would have been better if the main stairway had retained the double side-by-side design used in the Fram. There is two-way travel on stairs and no one agrees on use of the right or left side. Thus when one meets someone from the other direction, there is a 50% need for one or the other to switch sides. With a side-by-side design, we often found it most easy to simply move to the alternative stairway. Perhaps a minor point, but it does seem to make use of the stairs friendlier. Of course, we did use the excellent elevators at times—one can only take the 97 steps between decks 4 and 10 so many times in a day. And the elevators give such a magnificent view of the 6 story display, pleasantly reminding us of past visits to Norway. Perhaps in due course some views of Antarctica and even the 1,000,000 King penguin colony of South Georgia could be added to the display.
The maintenance and cabin crew were observed to be doing an excellent job in maintaining the cleanliness of the ship. This is important as not all passengers use the readily available hand sanitation.
We have mixed feelings about the sliding doors. On a number of occasions a door would not be working. The push buttons for the exit doors to the aft of deck 10 also were obstinate at times. There is also the annoyance that simply walking past a door would activate the opening. The posting of the morning news summary next to sliding doors near the Science Center meant reading the pages while the doors opened and closed as one moved or remained stationary. Actually given the availability of this news summary via four different language TV channels, posting the paper copies seemed unnecessary (except that this was never announced and discovery of the paper copy and availability on the room TV was fortuitous).
The word excellent applies to the Science Center and its Library.
The shop was a unexpected disappointing surprise. No postcards, some stuffed toys, and only a few Hurtigruten clothing items. But also jewelry and watches as if this were a Fifth Avenue boutique – these absolutely out of place! Their presence was another unsettling suggestion that personnel involved in the ship design were out of touch with the Hurtigruten precepts of earlier vessels and that expressed in the video presentation of the company’s 125 year history. It would have been far more appropriate to have had a few books related to Arctic exploration and culture, and even other gift items related to the exploration aspect of the voyage – many carvings and other items could be found in the cultural centers of the Inuit towns in Greenland, Nunavut and Alaska and there is no reason why examples could not be secured to sell on the ship. Many similar cultural items can be obtained in Chile and Argentina to accompany southern voyages.
That Hurtigruten literature and catalogues for other voyages were lacking on the ship was also surprising.
The medallions from port visits by the ship were seen in the corridor in the bridge area. Why hide them here? We have always liked to observe where a ship has visited and to note the variety of emblems that have been acquired.
The visibility of the stainless steel exhaust stacks detract from the overall appearance of the vessel. I would suggest that a black cowl of some form be integrated into the upper structure of the ship to hide them.
We always ignored the presence of the hot tubs on the Fram and now on the Amundsen, but we suppose some persons might appreciate some warm relief from the cold (we can’t say we have actually observed many passengers taking advantage of them). The addition of a pool on deck 10 seems so unnecessary, didn’t appear to attract much usage, and acted more as an obstacle in passing from one side of the ship to the other if one were on deck observing and photographing wildlife. The addition of a “Wellness Center” just seemed wrong for a Hurtigruten expedition cruise.
We have made comparison often to the Fram. Frankly, we are quite fond of the Fram. Yes, its cabins might be a bit spartan, the baths a bit cramped, and so forth, and once we even were rolled out of bed when the ship encountered high waves in the Drake Passage, but the real point is that we have been on the Fram because it was going to really great places, not because we expected to be pampered with soft accomodations, spas, high cuisine, and whatever. We engaged passage on the Amundsen not because it offered more luxury, but because it was going somewhere where our past Hurtigruten experience predicted a memorable once-in-the-lifetime experience with significance of historical, cultural and ecological importance. We only hope that as Hurtigruten brings a new generation of advanced ships into use that this tradition is maintained.
Some of what we have noted above we are certain will be rectified as the ship routines become more practiced – but, quite frankly, it would appear that the ship was rushed into use before adequate planning of routines had been done and before crew and staff were trained in those routines. We hope a few of the other suggestions will be accepted where no difficulty would occur in making modifications to the present ship. We hope those few of more serious changes will be considered as Hurtigruten plans new vessels. In addition, we hope that Hurtigruten management seriously reconsider its apparent movement toward a more “yuppified” atmosphere on its ships.
The Northwest Passage was a marvelous voyage for us. We expect we will be back on another Hurtigruten voyage in the near future, but not the Roald Amundsen. Read Less